Missing the Boat

Australians at Sea on Asylum-Seekers

| by Michael Roberts

(October 19, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Australian politicians, media and public have deluded themselves. They have consistently underestimated the force of chain migration networks as a pull-push factor in promoting migration whether legally or illegally by air or boat. This is an educated conjecture. If valid, it means that policies geared to the deterrence of people smuggling will have a limited influence on the steams of migration by any route.
Two launches from patrol boat HMAS Launceston intercept an Indonesian boat off Australia / File

Surveys of in-migration that restrict themselves to either push factors in the homelands of out-migrants or the pull-factors of Western countries sought out by migrants simply neglect a major force: a combined pull-push factor of a specific kind. I refer here to the power exercised by previous migrants whose networks of kinship and monetary remittances finance the migration ventures of loved ones back in their homelands. This process is also a snowballing process because the more migrants from place X enter any Western country, then the more of their kin gain the means to penetrate any sought-after Western destination.
This process has been at work for centuries among migrants the world over. Where kinfolk in homeland do not have the requisite qualifications to migrate legally, these links and monies are used to use forged papers or boats to enter the country of choice.
Any review of this issue encounters a major problem. Social science does not have the capacity to measure precisely which of the three processes count the most for any one country (or region within a country, say, the Hazzara-north in Afghanistan)) during a specific span of time: whether it’s the push factor, the pull factor, or, the pull-push of networks/monies promoting illegal and legal migrants.
My comments are informed by my Sri Lankan background. One of the countries that attracted Sinhalese migrants, usually young males, during the last 20 years has been Italy. Virtually all these migrants could be considered economic migrants. In the late 1990s in particular this intake included many boat people travelling all the way by trawler. It is no accident that a substantial proportion of these Sinhalese are known to be from the Negombo area of Sri Lanka which has a Catholic majority as well as several fishery ports. One town in the area is now known as “Little Italy’ because of the migrant-remittances that have been invested therein and the architecture of some new houses.
Few Australians are alive to the fact that Sri Lankans from all ethnic communities have been migrating out from the 1950s. Some of the early migrants in the 1950s and 1960s were Burghers and/or highly Anglicized individuals seeking better opportunities in both the West or in Africa in circumstances where the island economy was contracting. Those who utilised the many paths of advancement in the African lands have invariably ended up in some Western country.
These streams were then augmented in the 1970s by others who disliked the new Left-government policies or were pinched by the continuing economic downturn and, increasingly, by Tamils who did not like the political trends. After the pogroms of mid-1977 and mid-1983, the Tamil streams multiplied exponentially. The cumulative potential of such bodies of successful migration is enormous and, of course, are exacerbated by continuing political dissatisfaction. However, there are economic motivations and the pull of kin sentiments as well.
This means that, now in 2011, there are numerous affluent and well-placed Tamils who can aid the migration of kin or friends by fair means or foul. A few are also well-placed in the Australian lobbies devoted to human rights on ideological grounds.
Offshore processing would not eliminate the working of such processes. Everyone is aware that most of the boatpeople who went to Nauru ended up in Australia. For migrants such an impediment only requires more patience and more money. Those capacities they have in abundance. In working themselves into lather against the new turn in deterrence policies such commentators as Greg Sheridan are shovelling away at a molehill not a hillside.

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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